Demonstrators call on banks to support communities


Hundreds marched through the streets of downtown Minneapolis on May 11, protesting the recklessness and hypocrisy of Wells Fargo’s dealings with Minnesota’s immigrant community. The march capped a weeklong string of “Occupy”-style protests across the Twin Cities. Organized by the Service Employees International Union in partnership with several progressive, faith-based and labor groups, the “99 Percent Week of Action” took aim at corporate tax dodgers and irresponsible Wall Street CEO’s with public demonstrations, civil disobedience and street theater.

Aztec dancers open the protest outside Wells Fargo in Minneapolis.

The May 11 event began on the sidewalk outside Wells Fargo’s Marquette Avenue branch, where colorfully dressed Aztec dancers twirled and danced to a lone drummer’s thunderous beat, entertaining dozens of people lined around the block, waiting to close their Wells Fargo accounts.

Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU Local 26, waved a withdrawal slip in the air as he addressed the crowd of protesters. The union, he said, had removed $72,000 in funds from Wells Fargo and had presented the bank with a petition signed by more than 1,000 people ready to do the same.

“We’ve been trying to get these big banks to listen to us, but they refuse to be good partners in our community,” Morillo-Alicea said. The union leader cited a long list of complaints about Wells Fargo, including the bank’s record of foreclosing on homes owned by immigrants and targeting immigrant communities with offers of “reckless subprime mortgages.”

Rank-and-file union members, meanwhile, said they felt betrayed by Wells Fargo, an institution that markets heavily to immigrant communities but, at the same time, bankrolls several organizations, businesses and politicians working contrary to most immigrant workers’ interests.

“Wells Fargo is the place where thousands of workers have deposited not just our money, but our trust,” said Gerardo Cajamarca, a member of Local 26. “Wells Fargo betrays that trust by financing anti-immigrant politicians. These are politicians that enact laws that hurt us, the 99 percent.

“In the last two years about 2,000 members of SEIU local 26 have lost their jobs because of our broken immigration system. We are here to protest the policies and politics of Wells Fargo and what they are doing to our communities.”

Fany Fonseca, a Local 26 steward, said more and more workers are beginning to connect the dots.

“As an immigrant and a customer of Wells Fargo, I was surprised to learn they are investing in private prison systems like Corrections Corporation of America,” Fonseca said, singling out a Wells Fargo-backed company that lobbied for – and profited from – Arizona’s extreme anti-immigrant law.

“We say enough of profiting off of immigrants,” Fonseca added. “The Latino community has had it. We will no longer work with banks that do not support our communities. Enough is enough!”

Many of the workers waiting to close their accounts at Wells Fargo were Somali immigrants, upset that the bank was refusing to conduct wire transfers necessary to send money to relatives in their native country.

Imam Hassan Mohamud said many families in Somalia depend on support from relatives living abroad. By blocking wire transfers from Somali immigrants to their families, he added, Wells Fargo “puts millions at risk” of starvation and death.

“We cannot let any institution, whether it is Wells Fargo or a government institution, let those people die,” Mohamud said. “My brothers and sisters, war and terror have nothing to do with this situation.”